Youth Violence in El Salvador
By Margarita Montoya, Academic Researcher – FLACSO-El Salvador Program
I am part of a group of researchers from FLACSO Program in El Salvador. We have initiated a project entitled "Innovative Institutional Strategies to Prevent Youth Violence in El Salvador" in collaboration with the Conflict and Development Foundation (CDF) and the Center on Conflict and Development Texas A&M University (ConDev).
After the civil war that lasted about 12 years during the 80’s and early 90’s ended, there was evidence of the existence and magnitude of “maras” (gangs) in El Salvador, a phenomenon that was increasing and has become one of the main problems threatening the security and development of the country. It is believed that these groups arise in part as a result of the disruption of urban areas, and in some cases, become a structure that partially replaces social institutions like the family (Moro, 2006), this in a context where migration has been a determining factor, as well as the climate of violence in which they have operated and learned to use violence as an acceptable way to resolve and address conflicts.
Gangs are primarily comprised of children and youth that are increasingly joining at younger ages. Considering that 56.6% of the Salvadoran population is 29 years old or less, it is a priority to prevent the involvement of more children and young people into these groups. At the same time, this highlights the need to promote youth development, for –although the young people involved in gangs is a small portion—this has led to having a socially stigmatizing image of all young people as agents of violence, which limits the possibilities for those seeking opportunities for improvement.
In response to the phenomenon of gangs, through the years, various campaigns, programs and initiatives have emerged nationwide –from the central government through its various ministries and other state agencies, as well as though collaboration agencies and organizations of various kinds– which have sought to take action to prevent violence and increase safety in different areas.
CDF and ConDev were interested in supporting the efforts of FLACSO researchers to collect data on communities affected by conflict in El Salvador in order to better understand the dynamics of conflict and make recommendations for development initiatives aimed at reducing tensions that could cause conflicts. A research team from FLACSO is already conducting the study, focusing on innovative institutional strategies for the prevention of youth violence in El Salvador.
Currently the team is obtaining updated youth-related data from several institutions. The team is also developing data collection instruments that will be used for interviews and surveys. Upon approval of such instruments by ConDev and CDF, the research team will begin surveying youth.
The Conflict and Development Foundation mission is to study and discuss the relationship between conflict and international development in the hope of eliminating hunger, poverty, and violence in the developing world. CDF partners with applied educational and scientific institutions, other United States land-grant education and research institutions, as well as like-minded non-governmental and private-volunteer organizations working to end conflict, poverty, and extreme hunger.
The Center on Conflict and Development Center at Texas A&M University seeks to improve the effectiveness of development programs and policies for conflict-affected and fragile countries through multidisciplinary applied research. To this end, ConDev will harness the innovative power of Texas A&M University and its partners in host countries and communities.
FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales) is an international organization consisting of 18 member states currently developing academic activities in 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. FLACSO was created in 1957. Since then, it has become an autonomous organization dedicated to the promotion, education, research and cooperation in the field of Social Sciences.